Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 015:1 (Fall 1997)
Article: Book Reviews
Author: Anonymous


Book Reviews

Biblical Studies

Christology and the Synoptic Problem: An Argument for Markan Priority, by Peter M. Head. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 94, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Pp. xvii + 337.

Is there a Synoptic problem? Despite Eta Linnemann’s recent claims to the contrary, scholarship on the relationships among Matthew, Mark, and Luke continues to pour from the presses unabated. The present book, a revision of the author’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Cambridge, England, makes a major contribution to the ongoing debate about the Synoptic problem. Dismissing views such as Linnemann’s (favoring the Synoptics’ literary independence) at the outset as implausible, contending that “the common wording in Greek, extending even to ‘redactional links,’ as well as the common order and selection of material in the Synoptic Gospels, militates against purely nonliterary approaches” (p. 7), Head devotes his work to adjudicating between two major views: Markan priority (the notion that Mark’s Gospel was the first to be written, advocated by the “two- or four-source hypothesis”) and Matthean priority (as asserted by advocates of the “Griesbach” or “two-Gospel hypothesis”). Since very few advocate Lukan priority, Head’s discussion focuses on comparing Matthew and Mark.

Also at the very outset, Head shows conclusively that the charge leveled by William Farmer, an ardent proponent of the “Griesbach hypothesis,” that British scholars followed their German counterparts uncritically in favoring Markan priority, is false (p. 18). Thus he has cleared the way for his own investigation: there is some kind of literary relationship between the Synoptics, and Markan priority is, and has been, the most frequently held view for the last century and a half, not merely on the basis of political pressure or prejudice (as Farmer’s “conspiracy theory” holds) but at least in part because of the force of evidence. As the subtitle of his work indicates, Head’s own research supports Markan priority. However, the author arrives at this conclusion by a different route than the one usually taken. Rather than comparing the respective chronological arrangements found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke or engaging in general source or redaction-critical investigations, Head focuses on the Christological outlooks of the Synoptists. What he finds is that differences between Matthew and Mark are much better accounted for by the notion of Markan priority than by the theory that Matthew was written first.

A case in point is Matthew’s and Mark’s use of the terms “teacher” and “Lord” for Jesus. Of these two terms, “teacher” occurs eleven times in Matthew

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